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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Golden Snare By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 10192

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

A cry from Celie turned his gaze from the broad white trail of ice that was the Coppermine, and as he looked she pointed eagerly toward a huge pinnacle of rock that rose like an oddly placed cenotaph out of the unbroken surface of the plain.

Blake grunted out a laugh in his beard and his eyes lit up with an unpleasant fire as they rested on her flushed face.

"She's tellin' you that Bram Johnson brought her this way," he chuckled. "Bram was a fool-like you!"

He seemed not to expect a reply from Philip, but urged the dogs down the slope into the plain. Fifteen minutes later they were on the surface of the river.

Philip drew a deep breath of relief, and he found that same relief in Celie's face when he dropped back to her side. As far as they could see ahead of them there was no forest. The Coppermine itself seemed to be swallowed up in the vast white emptiness of the Barren. There could be no surprise attack here, even at night. And yet there was something in Blake's face which kept alive within him the strange premonition of a near and unseen danger. Again and again he tried to shake off the feeling. He argued with himself against the unreasonableness of the thing that had begun to oppress him. Blake was in his power. It was impossible for him to escape, and the outlaw's life depended utterly upon his success in getting them safely to the cabin. It was not conceivable to suppose that Blake would sacrifice his life merely that they might fall into the hands of the Eskimos. And yet-

He watched Blake-watched him more and more closely as they buried themselves deeper in that unending chaos of the north. And Blake, it seemed to him, was conscious of that increasing watchfulness. He increased his speed. Now and then Philip heard a curious chuckling sound smothered in his beard, and after an hour's travel on the snow-covered ice of the river he could no longer dull his vision to the fact that the farther they progressed into the open country, the more confident Blake was becoming. He did not question him. He realized the futility of attempting to force his prisoner into conversation. In that respect it was Blake who held the whip hand. He could lie or tell the truth, according to the humor of his desire. Blake must have guessed this thought in Philip's mind. They were traveling side by side when he suddenly laughed. There was an unmistakable irony in his voice when he said:

"It's funny, Raine, that I should like you, ain't it? A man who's mauled you, an' threatened to kill you! I guess it's because I'm so cussed sorry for you. You're heading straight for the gates of hell, an' they're open-wide open."

"And you?"

This time Blake's laugh was harsher.

"I don't count-now," he said. "Since you've made up your mind not to trade me the girl for your life I've sort of dropped out of the game. I guess you're thinking I can hold Upi's tribe back. Well, I can't-not when you're getting this far up in their country. If we split the difference, and you gave me HER, Upi would meet me half way. God, but you've spoiled a nice dream!"

"A dream?"

Blake uttered a command to the dogs.

"Yes-more'n that. I've got an igloo up there even finer than Upi's-all built of whalebone and ships' timbers. Think of HER in that, Raine-with ME! That's the dream you smashed!"

"And her father-and the others-"

This time there was a ferocious undercurrent in Blake's guttural laugh, as though Philip had by accident reminded him of something that both amused and enraged him.

"Don't you know how these Kogmollock heathen look on a father-in-law?" he asked. "He's sort of walkin' delegate over the whole bloomin' family. A god with two legs. The OTHERS? Why, we killed them. But Upi and his heathen wouldn't see anything happen to the old man when they found I was going to take the girl. That's why he's alive up there in the cabin now. Lord, what a mess you're heading into, Raine! And I'm wondering, after you kill me, and they kill you, WHO'LL HAVE THE GIRL? There's a half-breed in the tribe an' she'll probably go to him. The heathen themselves don't give a flip for women, you know. So it's certain to be the half-breed."

He surged on ahead, cracking his whip, and crying out to the dogs. Philip believed that in those few moments he had spoken much that was truth. He had, without hesitation and of his own volition, confessed the murder of the companions of Celie's father, and he had explained in a reasonable way why Armin himself had been spared. These facts alone increased his apprehension. Unless Blake was utterly confident of the final outcome he would not so openly expose himself. He was even more on his guard after this.

For several hours after his brief fit of talking Blake made no effort to resume the conversation nor any desire to answer Philip when the latter spoke to him. A number of times it struck Philip that he was going the pace that would tire out both man and beast before night. He knew that in Blake's shaggy head there was a brain keenly and dangerously alive, and he noted the extreme effort h

e was making to cover distance with a satisfaction that was not unmixed of suspicion. By three o'clock in the afternoon they were thirty-five miles from the cabin in which Blake had become a prisoner. All that distance they had traveled through a treeless barren without a sign of life. It was between three and four when they began to strike timber once more, and Philip asked himself if it had been Blake's scheme to reach this timber before dusk. In places the spruce and banskian pine thickened until they formed dark walls of forest and whenever they approached these patches Philip commanded Blake to take the middle of the river. The width of the stream was a comforting protection. It was seldom less than two hundred yards from shore to shore and frequently twice that distance. From the possible ambuscades they passed only a rifle could be used effectively, and whenever there appeared to be the possibility of that danger Philip traveled close to Blake, with the revolver in his hand. The crack of a rifle even if the bullet should find its way home, meant Blake's life. Of that fact the outlaw could no longer have a doubt.

For an hour before the gray dusk of Arctic night began to gather about them Philip began to feel the effect of their strenuous pace. Hours of cramped inactivity on the sledge had brought into Celie's face lines of exhaustion. Since middle-afternoon the dogs had dragged at times in their traces. Now they were dead-tired. Blake, and Blake alone, seemed tireless. It was six o'clock when they entered a country that was mostly plain, with a thin fringe of timber along the shores. They had raced for nine hours, and had traveled fifty miles. It was here, in a wide reach of river, that Philip gave the command to halt.

His first caution was to secure Blake hand and foot, with his back resting against a frozen snow-hummock a dozen paces from the sledge. The outlaw accepted the situation with an indifference which seemed to Philip more forced than philosophical. After that, while Celie was walking back and forth to produce a warmer circulation in her numbed body, he hurried to the scrub timber that grew along the shore and returned with a small armful of dry wood. The fire he built was small, and concealed as much as possible by the sledge. Ten minutes sufficed to cook the meat for their supper. Then he stamped out the fire, fed the dogs, and made a comfortable nest of bear skins for himself and Celie, facing Blake. The night had thickened until he could make out only dimly the form of the outlaw against the snow-hummock. His revolver lay ready at his side.

In that darkness he drew Celie close up into his arms. Her head lay on his breast. He buried his lips in the smothering sweetness of her hair, and her arms crept gently about his neck. Even then he did not take his eyes from Blake, nor for an instant did he cease to listen for other sounds than the deep breathing of the exhausted dogs. It was only a little while before the stars began to fill the sky. The gloom lifted slowly, and out of darkness rose the white world in a cold, shimmering glory. In that starlight he could see the glisten of Celie's hair as it covered them like a golden veil, and once or twice through the space that separated them he caught the flash of a strange fire in the outlaw's eyes. Both shores were visible. He could have seen the approach of a man two hundred yards away.

After a little he observed that Blake's head was drooping upon his chest, and that his breathing had become deeper. His prisoner, he believed, was asleep. And Celie, nestling on his breast, was soon in slumber. He alone was awake,-and watching. The dogs, flat on their bellies, were dead to the world. For an hour he kept his vigil. In that time he could not see that Blake moved. He heard nothing suspicious. And the night grew steadily brighter with the white glow of the stars. He held the revolver in his hand now. The starlight played on it in a steely glitter that could not fail to catch Blake's eyes should he awake.

And then Philip found himself fighting-fighting desperately to keep awake. Again and again his eyes closed, and he forced them open with an effort. He had planned that they would rest for two or three hours. The two hours were gone when for the twentieth time his eyes shot open, and he looked at Blake. The outlaw had not moved. His head hung still lower on his breast, and again-slowly-irresistibly-exhaustion closed Philip's eyes. Even then Philip was conscious of fighting against the overmastering desire to sleep. It seemed to him that he was struggling for hours, and all that time his subconsciousness was crying out for him to awake, struggling to rouse him to the nearness of a great danger. It succeeded at last. His eyes opened, and he stared in a dazed and half blinded tray toward Blake. His first sensation was one of vast relief that he had awakened. The stars were brighter. The night was still. And there, a dozen paces from him was the snow-hummock.

But Blake-Blake-

His heart leapt into his throat.


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